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Articles | OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2011 | Return to E-newsletter

Atlanta's Healthcare Networks

Finding the right network for your family’s needs

by Melanie F. Gibbs

Atlanta's Healthcare Networks

Whether you’re planning a move to Atlanta or you’re new to the area, you have important things to consider. You know you need to find a home, a school and a bank, but don’t wait until you have an emergency or family illness to choose a healthcare provider, too. Moving to a new town is a great time to find a new healthcare network—and Atlanta has plenty to choose from!

“There is no better opportunity to line up a healthcare provider than before you get sick,” says Sandra Mackey, executive director of marketing for Emory Healthcare, the clinical arm of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University. “Looking for a provider when you don’t need one is smart.”

Take the time to do your research. The hope is that a newcomer would not need to be treated for something like cancer or cardiology issues, but it would be wise to know where they could turn for help.

“Talk to people in the area, do research online, even make phone calls and ask questions to office staff to help you prepare before you arrive,” says Kimberly Parker, RN, MSN, CNL-C and clinical program manager of illness prevention for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the largest clinical care providers for children in the country, with three area hospitals and 16 neighborhood locations.

Mackey suggests newcomers consider the size and scope of a healthcare system and its areas of specialty when making a choice. Major healthcare networks will include hospitals in multiple locations, large networks of physicians and other specialty services.

“Residents know that whether in times of crisis or individual distress, the local hospital is a place of care, comfort and security,” says Sharon Woods, PR strategist for WellStar Health System, a not-for-profit health system primarily serving the residents of Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Douglas and Paulding counties.

Since many hospitals are part of healthcare systems, what can people expect from such networks?

“A new trend in healthcare is the creation of hospital systems that include multiple hospitals, clinics and physician locations,” says Parker. “This may offer the best of both worlds as you may have a smaller facility close to you but have access to larger facilities if you needed additional care.” Either way, you can choose your physician or your hospital facility, but be sure that the provider you want has privileges to practice at the hospital of your choosing.

Networks offer services to help you select a physician from groups that can number more than a thousand and include a wide range of specialties. For example, the website of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta will allow you to select a specialty—from acupuncture to vascular surgery—and then refine the search to find a physician speaking any one of eight second languages.

While location is certainly important to selecting healthcare providers—and you’ll want to choose one that has convenient offices—quantity without quality won’t do you much good. Be sure to ask around about physicians you are considering. “You can often find out about education, certifications (you will likely want a Board-certified provider) in online searches,” suggests Parker. “Also, you should consider what type of providers you are willing to see. For example, are you okay with seeing a midwife (CNM) or nurse practitioner (NP), or do you only want to see a medical doctor (MD)?”

Moreover, if you will need the services of a specialist, you will want to select a network that has a depth of offerings related to that specialty. “Particularly if you are dealing with pre-existing conditions or high risk factors, you will want providers that can care for the individual needs of you and your family,” says Parker.

Networks will provide individual healthcare advice, with nurses answering questions over the phone, through email or both. They also will provide libraries of information and educational opportunities. Piedmont Healthcare, for one, offers interactive tools and resources, including a Test Your Knowledge series and a Calculator series. Piedmont has hospitals in Newnan, Fayette, Jasper and Atlanta, as wells as physicians in 35 locations around Atlanta and an integrated cardiovascular healthcare delivery program.

WellStar’s programs aim to “preserve and improve the overall health of the community,” says Woods. Its programs range from general wellness programs (health screenings and tests for cancer, cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as CPR training and weight loss and smoking cessation groups) to programs tailored to specific health issues like diabetes, asthma and arthritis. There are even support groups for those experiencing a health-related problem, such as cancer, alcoholism or the death of a loved one.

Northside Hospital, with hospitals in Atlanta, Forsyth and Cherokee and hospital-affiliated outpatient centers and medical office buildings across north metro Atlanta, offers a range of services, including a weekly parenting email tailored to the recipient’s week of pregnancy and then to the age of baby. Print magazines are available, also.

Through Northside you might attend a diabetes support group or an asthma education class. If you’ve been diagnosed and/or treated for cancer at Northside, you could attend a free three-day weekend retreat for adults. You might orgtake Fibromyalgia Aquatics or a “Healthy Heart” class through Piedmont, or even an “Everything You Wanted to Know about Epidurals but Were Afraid to Ask” class through WellStar.

These healthcare networks are “plugging in”—using the latest social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook—to communicate. Many content providers, including Piedmont Hospital, offer Internet podcasts at no cost. These audio broadcasts cover a range of healthcare topics and can be downloaded to your desktop or even transferred to your MP3 player for on-the-go learning. Video on Demand pod-casts—or “Vodcasts”—also are available on various procedures.

“Whenever you are searching for new providers, you have to identify what is most important
to you and your family,” says Parker. “Certainly getting recommendations from others can be helpful, but you may not like the same people that your friends do. In the end, you want a healthcare home for you and your family that is comfortable and trusting.”

Atlanta's Healthcare Networks Online:

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

DeKalb Medical Center

Emory Healthcare

Northside Hospital

Piedmont Healthcare

Wellstar Health System